Sunday, November 1, 2009

Single-school system a good idea but are there enough guarantees?

Tongues are set to wag again over the latest call for a single-school system with UMNO hardliners accusing vernacular schools as breeding grounds for racism. In all honesty, a single-school system is not a bad idea but are there enough guarantees to ensure it remains truly 'Malaysian'?

I personally believe that a single-school system is the right track to long term nation building. However, I disagree with UMNO to say, the least, that vernacular schools are breeding grounds for racism. UMNO hardliners can just be as racist too but didn't most of their leaders study abroad? Is it then fair to say that foreign education is the cause for their race-based segregationist views? Therefore, it is unreasonable to label vernacular schools as the root for the deteriorating racial relations in this country. How about looking at certain discriminative government policies for a start, UMNO?

Speaking of a single-school system, I believe there is no place more suitable than a truly Malaysian school that is able to provide a conducive environment for students to interact with Malaysians of other ethnic groups. Vernacular schools are usually dominated by a single race and it would prove a challenge for students to learn what it means to be Malaysian if they are placed in a mono-cultural setting. Therefore, it is imperative that the values of a tolerance and mutual respect for other ethnic groups be cultivated among Malaysians at a tender age.

So, are there solid guarantees that a single-school system will not turn into a breeding ground for racial discrimination instead? The Malaysian education system is already infamous for racial quotas and ethnic-based scholarships and it is a known fact that meritocracy mean very little here. In fact, under a single-school system, the chances of discrimination exists even greater than in vernacular schools. Can the government guarantee that students of all ethnic backgrounds be treated equally? I doubt so. To run a truly Malaysian school system and then racial quotas in university placements, for example, at the same time is double standard. What more can we expect then in a single-school system? Forgive my pessimism.

Secondly, is the government ready to acknowledge the importance of other ethnic mother tongues like Mandarin, Tamil, Iban and etc. ? No doubt that the Malay language is the national language but the government must also be humble enough to admit that the other main ethnic languages are just as important. Malaysia is a multi cultural nation and diversity is what we boast about to the world. So I urge we walk our talk. Vernacular school advocates fear that these ethnic languages will be neglected under a single-school system. Therefore, is the government willing to commit the same amount of resources to promote these ethnic languages alongside the Malay language?

Are there also enough guarantees to ensure that a single-school system will remain truly secular? Sad to say and with all due respect to Islam, we have seen how religion has slowly infused itself into education (religious school not included). Considering the multi-cultural aspect of our society, I expect a single-school system to remain secular and free from religious bigotry. How many times have we seen values of a certain religion being imposed on others who do not follow that religion? Just too many times.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak's 1Malaysia brand, though highly commercialized these days, promotes racial unity and racial acceptance. If that call is a call for us to accept diversity, then a single-school system should also appear likewise. A truly Malaysian school system should promote cultural acceptance among students of various backgrounds. In the past, MPs like Ibrahim Ali of Pasir Mas claim that in order for nation building to succeed, immigrants a.k.a non-Malays must adopt the local Malay culture. Can Najib's administration prevent that such ridiculous views from creeping into the system and also promise that students are ultimately taught to embrace and celebrate our differences?

The single-school system is one way we can all help to build a better, united society - beginning with our children. Political willpower and these government 'guarantees' are all it takes for the idea to succeed. But of course, only the Malaysian people can bring the whole vision of Bangsa Malaysia into fruition.

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

M'sians reject tainted leaders? Bagan Pinang voters appear to think otherwise

Malaysians have made their stand. Results of a new Merdeka Center for Opinion Research poll suggested that the majority of Malaysians reject political leaders who have been tainted by money politics or sex scandals. The poll was a timely gesture as to discover how the majority of Malaysians would react to the numerous scandals and money politics that rocked the nation of late.

The Merdeka Center discovered that a total of 87% of respondents in the poll conducted in Peninsular Malaysia from 29 Sept to 4 Oct did not want leaders who have been involved in money politics to stand for elections. This was evident in the defeat of UMNO's Rohaizat Othman in the Permatang Pasir by-election who was found guilty of swindling a client by the Bar Council.

However, the results of the Merdeka Center poll was not reflected in the results of the Bagan Pinang by-election on October 11. Tan Sri Mohd Isa Abdul Samad won a landslide victory despite being found guilty of money politics by his party.[Refer to my previous post]

The poll also found that 75% of respondents did not want leaders who were tainted by sex scandals, taking Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek who was involved in a sex tape scandal as an example. At the same time, only 25.2% of respondents said Datuk Seri Ong Tee Keat should lead the MCA following the disgraceful handling of the Port Klang Free Zone (PKFZ).

And recently, members of the MCA decided to oust Ong from the party president post in a vote of no confidence. This would mean Ong has to resign as Transport Minister and also party chief, potentially throwing the entire MCA into disarray with the leadership void. However, any decision for Ong, who is currently on a 'leave' to step down, is yet to be made.

Moving on to the MIC, 59% of respondents felt the party is no longer relevant to the Indian community. Only 15% viewed the largest Indian Malaysian party in the Barisan Nasional coalition positively.

In September, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak also saw his popularity fell to 56% from 65% (in June). However, 47% of the people expressed that they were still not convinced of the Pakatan Rakyat as a worthy rival to the Barisan Nasional at the federal level.

Such polls may not be the Malaysian people's true reflection of sentiments. The voting ballots would prove a more effective way for the people to voice their approvals and objection. But from what that has been gathered so far, it is apparent that the Barisan Nasional remains the only entity that is still capable of leading the federal government. The Pakatan Rakyat is simply still too inexperience to do so for now.

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Saturday, October 3, 2009

Those guilty of money politics not fit to run for office

The decision to field Tan Sri Mohd Isa Abdul Samad (image) to run for the Bagan Pinang state seat sends all sorts of wrong signals. Credibility is of the utmost importance for politicians who runs for office. But what does it mean for the Malaysian people when a candidate, who was found guilty for money politics, is allowed to contest in an election?

To echo former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad's statement, character of a candidate (running for election) is important. But apparently Dr Mahathir's words has fallen on deaf ears. Isa was suspended for three years from June 24, 2005, for indulging in money politics in the 2004 UMNO elections. He was originally suspended for six years or two terms but it was reduced after he appealed [source].

Teluk Kemang UMNO Youth head Mohd Faizal Ramli also revealed that his division had conducted a survey and found that the constituents, including the non-Malays, have accepted Isa. Whether the findings were rigged or made-up, his statement paints a bleak image for Malaysian politics where blind loyalty towards individuals and party is seen more important than national interests.

According to Faizal, Isa was the perfect choice for the the candidacy as he proven his loyalty to the party and had set a good example for his fellow party members. I find this truly disturbing. A political party is merely a tool for individuals who share the same ideology to achieve whatever political ambitions they may have. Loyalty to the party above justice, accountability and service to the nation is corrupted loyalty.

Dr Mahathir had initially advised against nominating Isa as Barisan Nasional's candidate for the by-election. He said that Isa had been found guilty in money politics and picking him might give the impression that UMNO was not serious about fighting the corrupt practice. For his two cents worth, I cannot agree more. The lack of thorough consideration and the giving in to misguided grassroot demands by the party leadership sow doubts over Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak's seriousness in reforming UMNO which has recently lost much ground among the urban Malay community.

Najib believes people should look beyond Isa's past sins and consider his ability to resolve the problems voters face as his prerequisite for an able public representative [source]. But is Najib implying that money politics is nothing much but a petty crime? In my opinion, money politics is the greatest abuse and breach of public trust - an opinion which falls back to Dr. Mahathir's statement that character for a politician is more important. So what if Isa is loyal to UMNO. The fact stands that he indulged in money politics and thus his credibility has fallen into question.

Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein also went on to suggest that there is a difference between good guilt and bad guilt - if we were to go by with his comment on the issue. He admits, “He (Isa) is different from certain individuals who, when found guilty by the party, they are willing to curse the party that has served them. Tan Sri Isa is different. He is patient and strong, and his loyalty to the party is one matter which was considered by the top leadership.”

But justice and redemption are not made by simply being "loyal" to the party. Money politics is a serious form of corruption and a blatant breach of public trust. The issue here is not whether Isa would indulge in money politics again but when one's credibility can be questioned like this, then he is not fit to represent the people. Come October 11 and Malaysians would really love to see if voters in Bagan Pinang are mature enough to understand what credibility and character mean for their representative in government. As for me, I want one who is clean from any wrongdoing - especially from money politics.

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Saturday, September 26, 2009

When monarchies should remain politically neutral...

The Royal Institution in Malaysia not only functions as a symbol of sovereignty of the Malay Rulers but is also a system to maintain check and balance within the national political fold. Malaysians expect their monarchs to remain above politics but what happens when they appear otherwise?

Constitutional monarchy is a form of government in which a monarch acts as head of state whose powers are defined by the parameters of a written or unwritten constitution. In Malaysia, nine hereditary Sultans preside over their respective states who, in general understanding, should maintain their neutrality in politics.

However, on September 25 the Sultan of Pahang, Sultan Ahmad Shah called on his subjects to continue supporting the Barisan Nasional. His Majesty's reason? The Sultan believes that by supporting the ruling coalition, it would ensure short and long term development for the state which in turn, would benefit the people of Pahang [source].

Last year, the Perlis state monarch made his political preferences known by going against the recommendation of Barisan Nasional for Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim to be in line for the Chief Minister post. Raja Perlis Syed Sirajuddin Putra Jamalullail decided to appoint Bintong assemblyman Datuk Dr Md Isa Sabu as Chief Minister instead and His Majesty's actions drew huge protests from the Barisan Nasional camp.

Shahidan, obviously disappointed with the Raja's decision, was quoted saying,"This is Barisan Nasional's pride. If there is no respect for Barisan Nasional and Umno, who else will respect them? Barisan Nasional has won the election therefore the appointment by the coalition party should not be questioned...This is a clear indication that the party, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi (then Prime Minister) and even the people's decision have been disregarded." [source]

His public disapproval of the Perlis monarch's intervention in the political process, of course, did not receive as much flak as what the Pakatan Rakyat had to endure during the Perak Constitutional crisis in May 2009. Both Pakatan Rakyat leaders and supporters were heavily criticized by Barisan Nasional for being "disrespectful" towards the Sultan of Perak for disapproving certain actions taken or rather not taken by the Sultan during the course of the crisis. And yet, the people who cried foul the loudest did just the same for the Raja of Perlis less than a year ago. Speak of hypocrisy!

If disagreeing with a Sultan's actions or comments is deemed treachery then the same judgement can be passed on the 74% of Perak voters of a Merdeka Centre poll who felt the Sultan could have helped to pave way for fresh state elections rather than endorsing the Barisan Nasional smash and grab of state administrative powers.

UMNO youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin and his supporters have even dared to suggest banishment for people who "defy" the monarchy!

The whole issue of disrespecting the royalty has been politicized ever since the Perak crisis and it has been the main attack for the Barisan Nasional on the Pakatan Rakyat among the Malay community who traditionally hold their monarchs in high regard. But surely, this time I believe the Sultan of Pahang's comments will be duly accepted by the Barisan Nasional fold.

Perhaps, political neutrality is best portrayed by King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand who, in 2006, refused to intervene in the nation's political crisis between the Thaksin Shinawatra government and the Opposition. The King said the courts should resolve the matter and told senior judges to assume their responsibilities or resign. His Majesty also said the constitution does not permit him to appoint a new government, and to do so would be undemocratic - thus displaying a certain amount of political impartiality in this case [source].

The dignity of the Malay Rulers is valued by their political neutrality as Malaysians hope to rely on their state monarchs as a form of check and balance against governance powers bestowed on commoners through elections. But it remains interesting to see how the people of Pahang would react to their Sultan's call for support for a particular political party - or will they "defy" their ruler and vote their way to "treachery"?

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Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Move towards religious acceptance, not tolerance

The recent controversy surrounding the cow head protest of Section 23, Shah Alam has sparked a furore of public dissatisfaction. The Selangor state government has done all it can to satisfy both the protesters and Hindu residents but to no avail. But just when the dust begins to settle, is it possible that 'Muslim sensitivity' has been hijacked as an excuse for downright racism?

On August 28, a protest was held in front of the Selangor state secretariat against the relocation of the Sri Maha Mariaman Temple into their residential area of Section 23, Shah Alam. The protest became a subject of criticism when the group displayed a bloodied cow head to mock the state government without knowing or rather being ignorant to the fact that cows are considered sacred in the Hindu religion. [Read more on the incident]

The Selangor state government recently held a dialogue between the residents of Section 23 to cohesively draft a solution to the ongoing problem. The forum, of course, turned rowdy when residents began to physically confront each other. Some residents even threw racial insults towards government leaders who were present at the meet and rejected alternative proposals brought forward by the Shah Alam City Hall.

The residents argued that the relocation of the temple directly affects Muslim sensitivities. But when asked what these "sensitivities" were, the objectors failed to provide any clear answers. Some cited "traffic congestion" as one of the reason why the relocation of the Sri Maha Mariaman Temple was rejected. "Traffic congestion" has nothing to do with religious sensitivity of any kind.

Interviews made by The Malaysian Insider recently revealed that several residents of Section felt their religion had been 'sidetracked' and 'betrayed' by their Muslim leaders. How so? Because the new site for the Hindu temple is just 150 meters from a surau and in a Muslim-majority housing area. The Sri Maha Mariaman Temple had to be relocated from its original site because it was also too close to another surau.

A resident was even quoted saying she was against the relocation of the temple because it was too near to a playground and children will not go there to play if the temple is built. Why? Are Hindus pedophiles?

On September 4, Yayasan Dakwah Islamiah Malaysia (YDIM), an Islamic missionary organization did no one any favour to help calm the issue when they argued that the high number of Hindu temples in country was the cause of the problem. According to its president Datuk Mohd. Nakhaie Ahmad, there are too many Hindu temples in the country and that has made the Malay community uneasy.

Nakhaie also said that despite 60% of the population in Sentul, Kuala Lumpur being Muslim, there are only 13 mosques in the area as to 72 Hindu temples.
Former Selangor Chief Minister Datuk Seri Dr Mohd Khir Toyo suggested recently that his idea of having a religious enclave - where Hindu temples would be segregated into one area - would solve the problem and foster greater religious tolerance. I would ask Khir Toyo, would he do the same to the mosques in a non-Muslim majority area? History has shown us what segregation can do to nationhood; be it religious or ethnic.

In my opinion, why should the Hindus relocate their temple in the first place? They have done nothing wrong but to be in close proximity to another house of worship. Why should the Hindus of Section 23 compromise on their rights to freedom of worship just to satisfy and fulfill the demands of another group of people. The protesters may not realize that when they preach of religious tolerance, they are effectively looking at themselves in the mirror.

It is clear that Muslim sensitivities have been exploited to justify a ludicrous cause and an excuse for blatant racism against other Malaysians of a different faith. The objectors of the temple relocation are clueless as to how the relocated temple would infringe Islam and Muslims.

We, non-Muslim Malaysians kindly asks these people to consider the fact that there are also instances where mosques and suraus are built in a non-Muslim majority area and yet, the residents have no qualms about it. We ask our fellow brethren to understand this side of the coin. In a multi-religious country like ours, it is all about give-and-takes and not demand-and-whine when things don't go our way.

Perhaps, it is time that Malaysians move towards religious acceptance rather than religious tolerance. What is so obnoxious about another religion other than our own that we need to put up with?

We have to accept other religions as they are and not belittling others to suit our own interpretation of what faith and religion should be. Accepting another religion which is not our own does not mean we betray our beliefs nor are we new converts to the former.

Be it waking up to the daily Azan call or enduring the traffic jams during the annual Thaipussam walks in Batu Caves, we should all embrace our differences and celebrate our diversity. Saying one building is too close to another or segregating temples into a enclaves are not the solution to the problem. Are we not hypocrites when we teach our children that Malaysia is founded in the spirit of brotherhood and mutual respect?






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Tuesday, September 1, 2009

1Malaysia is still 1Dream too far away

On August 28, a group of residents from Section 23, Shah Alam and several others from Malay NGOs protested against the relocation of a Hindu temple to their area by carrying a severed bloodied cow head to the State Secretariat building. And as we all know, the cow is considered sacred in the Hindu religion and the protesters have certainly crossed the line.

Malaysiakini reported that about 50 residential committee members were involved in Friday's protest after the Muslim Friday prayers. The protesters brought banners criticizing the Selangor State government, Chief Minister Tan Sri Abdul Khalid Ibrahim, State Welfare Exco Rodziah Ismail, State Health Exco Dr A Xavier Jayakumar and Shah Alam PAS MP Khalid Samad [source].

Section 23 Resident's Association chairman, Mahyuddin Manaf said that the group is against the relocation of the Sri Maha Mariaman Temple 300 meters to their area because 80% of residents there are Muslims.

It was understood that the Sri Maha Mariaman Temple had to be relocated 300 meters from its original site because it was too close to a surau. But that apparently was not enough for the protesters who claim that Hindus in Section 23 are only the minority and the relocation of their temple is unjustified.

The Sri Maha Mariaman Temple was first built for Hindu residents of Section 19, 20 and 23 Shah Alam - not just Section 23 alone.

However, Mahyuddin Manaf denied that he had knowledge of any prior intentions by the protesters to carry the cow head to the State Secretariat and also expressed his 'shock' over the incident. He went on the say that perhaps, the cow head was not intended to insult Hindus as the animal represents stupidity in the Malay culture.

Even if they truly meant to mock the state government, Mahyuddin Manaf and his people are clearly ignorant enough to not know that the cow is a sacred animal in the Hindu religion. What do the protesters intend to achieve by carrying a bloodied cow head around?

The Friday protest is an exposé of the ugly side of society where religious bigotry and the lack of mutual respect for other communities seem lacking. Banners were also seen labelling Rodziah Ismail and Khalid Samad as "traitors of the Malay race". Such bigots have shown they cannot differentiate race and religion.

What further disturbs me is the very reason the protesters used to justify their demonstration. They believe that the Hindu Temple should not be relocated to their area because the Hindu residents of Section 23 only make up a small minority.

But just what do they mean by that? Are minorities not entitled to the same rights as of those in the majority? I would like to remind the protesters of Article 11(3b) of the Federal Constitution which states that "Every religious group has the right to establish and maintain institutions for religious or charitable purposes."

Even if there are only 10 Hindus in Section 23, they too have equal rights to have their own place of worship as the Muslims do. Nothing is questioned when mosques and suraus are built in non-Muslim majority areas. So how is this case any different?

It is already enough for non-Muslims to follow building guidelines set by the National Fatwa Council for Islamic Affairs, which I believe are both narrow minded and unconstitutional, to dictate how to build places of worship. You may refer to my post on the issue of religious freedom in Malaysia [click here].

It is imperative that citizens of this country learn to have mutual respect and acceptance of different religions other than their own. Khalid Samad and Rodziah Ismail have performed well in their duties as politicians for all Malaysian despite being Muslim themselves. I commend them for that. It is people like Mahyuddin Manaf and his band of protesters that paint a bad image for other Muslims in the country.

The protesters from Section 23 of this dogmatist cause warned Khalid Samad and Rodziah Ismail "not to play with fire". But in fact, the very people who are playing with fire are those who stoke racial and religious hostility among Malaysians.

Home minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein has issued a warning to those who create racial tension. Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak has demanded action to be taken on the protesters. The police have also said that the August 28 protest will be investigated under the Sedition Act. But talk is cheap. We will need to wait and see if the authorities would really walk their talk in the spirit of 1Malaysia.




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Monday, August 24, 2009

Condemn religious bigotry, not Islam

On August 24, independent news portal Malaysiakini reported that PAS Youth is calling for a ban on MLTR's (Michael Learns To Rock) concert this September - citing it as an insult towards Muslims in the country because it is held during the fasting month of Ramadhan

Firstly, I would like to clarify that this is not an attack on Islam. I have enough respect for my Muslim friends to honour their faith. What I am trying to convey here is my personal rejection towards religious bigotry of any kind - be it Christian, Buddhist, Taoist or etcetera. So I urge my fellow Malaysians not to attack the religion but the religious bigotry of PAS Youth.

The Danish band is scheduled to hold a concert in Genting Highlands on September 5 to promote their newest album, Eternity. With hit songs like Paint My Love and That's Why You Go, the biggest proportion of MLTR's global fandom is actually found in Malaysia.

On August 24, PAS Youth leader Nasrudin Hassan commented that the concert would be a "massive insult" to Muslims in the country who are currently fasting for Ramadhan. He also criticized the present government for giving Star Planet Sdn Bhd the green light to organise the event.[source].

To make things even more compelling, Nasruddin Hassan said he is not hesitant to rally Muslim youths around the country to hold mass protests against the concert. He is also calling for other Muslim NGOs in the country to make a stand against the issue, hoping to cleanse Malaysia from immorality and sin perpetrated by the UMNO/BN government.

"The concert is sure to bring about complacency and immorality among Muslims," Nasruddin Hassan was quoted saying. [Malaysiakini, 24/8/09]
My question is: Why not also ban the sale of cigarettes during the month of Ramadhan? I'm sure tar and nicotine can do more harm than a Danish ballad rock concert can!

If PAS Youth feels that the concert is not suitable for Muslims, then the most reasonable and practical thing to do is to advise Muslims to simply not attend the event. They should be considerate that there are also other Malaysians who do not observe the Ramadhan and would love to see their favourite band live. Has PAS Youth forgotten that Malaysia is not 100% Muslim?

Religious bigotry in Malaysia is not new. Recently, the issue of the sale of alcohol in Muslim-majority areas in Shah Alam has been heavily politicised by PAS Selangor and UMNO. The state administration's local government, research and development portfolio - currently held by executive council (exco) member Ronnie Liu was accused of "interfering in the matters of Islam" by PAS Selangor.

Liu recently intervened in a seizure of beer cans by the Shah Alam City Council from a shop in the city. Muslims in the country are already legally not allowed to purchase alcoholic beverages but PAS Selangor is demanding for a ban on the sale of alcohol in every Muslim-majority area. PAS Selangor believes that by doing so, Muslim youths would be protected from indulging in alcohol.

But it did not occur to them that if one really wants to get his/her fix, one can always drive somewhere else or quietly do it in their own room. PAS Selangor is also ignorant to the fact that many non-Muslim retail owners depend heavily on the sale of alcoholic beverages. Placing beer cans in shops is not an act of forcing nor encouraging Muslim youths to drink!

It is a fact that religious bigotry will always be a thorn in the flesh of progress and civil maturity and will also continue to plague our multi-cultural society. Thus, we as Malaysians must understand that while we may condemn the narrow-mindedness of certain religious bigots in the country, let us all also be sure not to condemn the religion.


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Monday, August 17, 2009

Kerajaan BN or Kerajaan Malaysia?

The Barisan Nasional coalition has been in power for over 50 years. However, the political monopoly has created confusion among ordinary Malaysians and politicians alike of the difference between "party" and "government". This has open doors for abuse and propaganda by the powers that be which I believe every Malaysian should therefore be aware of. It is the very reason why a government should be impartial and not party-orientated when it comes to governance.

So what is the difference between party and government? Apart from the spelling, of course, a party is an entity of politicians who share the same ideology and is intended to run for election to govern. Government, on the other hand, is the administrative body of the nation and it should not discriminate any group of people based on their political beliefs, no matter how different they may be from the elected party.

The problem lies in the misconception or rather, the ignorance by certain quarters in acknowledging the difference between party and government. I believe, some politicians and local executive councillors are guilty for their failure to distinguish such things in public..

I am speaking from my personal experience and observation. And I believe, if we look hard enough (a challenge to whoever may be reading this), the proof of my point can be seen almost everywhere and anywhere. Below is a picture of a signboard which is quite ubiquitous. It is self-explanatory:



The signboard proudly exclaims, Projek Kerajaan Barisan Nasional (A Barisan Nasional government project). Is "Barisan Nasional" the name of our country? Or is the school building a 'gift' from the Barisan Nasional? No party should ever claim credit for a project that benefits the community if it is funded by taxpayers' money. Is this not political propaganda even when it is not election season?

Such signboards only mock every taxpaying Malaysian. Are supporters of the Barisan Nasional the only ones who deserve such perks and social benefits? Or are these signboards a cheap reminder to non-Barisan Nasional supporters that they are at the mercy of the ruling coalition? No. The government is obliged to serve every citizen regardless of their political affiliation.

They are also accusations of the federal government (led by Barisan Nasional) withholding crucial funds for states currently under the rule of Opposition parties. Taking Penang state for instance, in August 2008 Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng disclosed that the federal government is holding back RM1.1 billion worth of allocated funds for the urgent expansion of the Mengkuang Dam in Permatang Pauh. Penang’s growing population was bound to face critical water shortage in the next four years. Lim noted that the allocation has not been fulfilled even though it was originally confirmed in the 8th Malaysia Plan. The project was later to be financed fully by a loan from the federal government under the 9th Malaysia Plan. The people of Penang chose the Opposition as the state government but they are nonetheless Malaysians. Thus, it is the duty of the federal goverment is to serve the people of Penang no matter what.

And on August 17 2009, PKR Pahang Legal advisor Ahmad Nizam Hamid reported that Deputy Prime Minister and UMNO party vice president Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin had used a Nuri helicopter owned by the Royal Malaysian Air Force in Sabah while conducting party activities. The news about the abuse of government property for party affairs only came to light when the helicopter had to make an emergency landing in Tuaran. Just what right does Muhyiddin have to utilise the RMAF helicopter for UMNO matters?

Is the political psyche of Malaysians too accustomed to the Barisan Nasional 50 year dominance that such misconceptions of party and government have gone unnoticed? Political parties may debate and bicker over ideologies but a government should remain what it is and all politics are put aside for the sake of nationhood. Therefore, the Malaysian context that relates party with government and government with party is flawed. Because ultimately, the people of Malaysia come first, not party nor propaganda.


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Monday, August 10, 2009

Racial journalism from Utusan Malaysia - yet again

Endless racial debates seem to be the main agenda for certain national newspapers like the Utusan Malaysia. Notorious for their racially themed articles, the UMNO-owned paper clearly does not reflect its president's call for 1Malaysia. If Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak is sincere in making his 1Malaysia pep talk a success, the first step would be to keep Utusan Malaysia in check from its racialism.

In my view, this is double speak from both UMNO and party president Datuk Seri Najib Razak who are advocating the 1Malaysia concept. Utusan Malaysia is the party's mouth piece and what it says reflects the party's stand and views. Also, being a national newspaper which is widely distributed to the masses, Utusan Malaysia has a social responsibility to fulfil - that is to ensure the right spirit of journalism is delivered to people.

Recently, Utusan Malaysia published an article entitled, "The Malays are cowards" and it suggests that the non-Malays are being disrespectful to the Malays by manipulating politics and questioning their special rights. [Click here for the English translation or the original Malay version]

In the article, the author comments that the non-Malays want more political power and is lamenting the possibility that one day, the majority of the country's top posts could be held by non-Malays. Not very 1Malaysia-ish, I'd say. This is the reason why the word "meritocracy" remain absent in the vocabulary of narrow minded bigots like Utusan Malaysia. For them, it does not matter if the Inspector-General of Police or a Minister is unqualified and incapable just as long as he is a Malay. On the other hand, the non-Malays have no qualms about having Malay leaders as long as they are capable and know what they are doing. So, race is actually beside the point. Malaysians just want able leaders to lead them.

The article further suggests that the Malays are being "attacked" by the Chinese and Indians for power over the country. And by doing so, the Chinese and Indians are instigating another May 13. The writer also points out that “what the Chinese and the Indians want now is more political and administrative power, not justice and democracy.” Is this not racially slanderous?

The Pakatan Rakyat have publicly condemn the article, citing it to be seditious and potentially detrimental to racial harmony. I agree. Why isn't Najib sticking his nose into this since such articles are directly opposing his 1Malaysia ideals?

PAS central committee member Dr Hatta Ramli criticized the writer's belief that public bodies like the courts, the police and the military are Malay institutions when they are actually upheld as Malaysian institutions. This lop-sided view only reflects the limited understanding of the nation's history. This country is not only built by one race but is a collective effort of the various immigrant communities that chose this land to be called their home. But sadly, racist bigots do not understand this historical portion of reality.

Nonetheless, we should all respect Utusan Malaysia's right to freedom of speech. But if that is the case, would the favour be returned if such articles like Utusan Malaysia's are written in a non-Malay newspaper? Would they not also cry foul and say it is seditious?

I will not call for a total ban on Utusan Malaysia because I respect their right to free speech. The least we - those who are disgusted with their version of quality journalism - could do is to not buy their papers. Banning Utusan Malaysia for their views, no matter how preposterous they may be, would make us indifferent to them. We may disagree with Utusan Malaysia but we should do our utmost to protect their right to say it.

That being said, however, does not stop Utusan Malaysia from making a fool out of themselves with their apparent "insightful" articles on race relations. Unless that is sorted out, Najib and UMNO can forget about convincing the rest of Malaysia that 1Malaysia is viable.


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Saturday, August 1, 2009

Does Malaysia still need the ISA ?

The Internal Security Act (ISA) has never failed to provoke its fair share of controversies. The government says we need it; the foreign media says its unethical but ultimately, the majority of Malaysians want the policy scrapped for good.

The preventive detention law was first drafted by the government to counter the communist insurgents during the Emergency Years. And yes, the law has been instrumental in putting a dent in the Jemaah Islamiyah terror movement many years ago. But the question is: Do we really need the ISA?

Both former Law Minister Datuk Zaid Ibrahim and Human Resources Minister Datuk Dr. S. Subramaniam have in the past expressed their discontent with the abuse of the ISA by the powers that be. Zaid Ibrahim, a lawyer by profession have said that Malaysia has adequate laws to prosecute an individual deemed a threat to national security and there is simply no need to invoke the controversial law.

In an article published by the Malaysian Insider, Pasir Mas independent MP Ibrahim Ali has called for the support and the continuity of the ISA. He reckons a multiracial country like Malaysia needs the ISA in order to maintain peace and order in society. To support his argument, he suggests that it would be 'easier' to arrest a terrorist suspect who is plotting to bomb a public area under the ISA, rather than using conventional detention law to prosecute him in court for 'he' has yet to commit a crime.

Nonetheless, I believe that kind of reasoning is flawed.

First of all, if an arrest is to be made on a terror suspect, that would likely mean the authorities have sufficient evidence of his terrorist involvement in the first place; otherwise an arrest warrant cannot be issued. Secondly, the police still has the right to detain a criminal suspect for 48 hours for interrogation - even without a warrant. On the other hand, a person can be incarcerated up to 60 days of interrogation without access to legal counsel under the ISA.

In fact, I would support the ISA if and only if the legislation is restricted to cover terrorist or military threats. The fact is that today, the party in power has the prerogative to choose who is a 'threat' and who is not. This gives powerful individuals in the government to abuse the ISA. Individuals like Raja Petra Kamarudin and Teresa Kok were considered threats to national security simply because they disagreed with certain government policies and practices. Are bloggers and MPs now more dangerous than crooks and terrorists?

Recent trends have also shown that the ISA is currently being used to serve political purposes.

But what about the racists? People have called for the ISA to be used on politicians like former Bukit Bendera division chief Ahmad Ismail who labelled the Chinese Malaysians as squatters last year. Nothing happened. So to say that Malaysia needs the ISA to prevent people from stirring racial sentiments is irrelevant. When the ISA is really needed to serve its true purpose, it is not used. What is the point then?

But I believe in the freedom of speech. Being of Chinese descent, if one decides to make a racist statement on my ancestry in public, does it mean I should start a racial riot and torch every Malay home or business? No. But unfortunately, our society is not mature enough to handle such harsh statements - yet.

The ethical issue with the ISA is that a person can be arrested for a crime he has yet to commit. That is like putting the cart before the horse. Likewise, when heavy Muslim-dressed passengers have to undergo tighter security screenings for 'potential terrorist affiliations' in European and American airports, many here cry foul against the religious/racial profiling being exercised by the liberal West. Similarly, the police here could also arrest every single motorcycle rider on the road for being potentially 'Rempit'. Why not?

Hence, I believe the ISA has already served its purpose to suppress the communists. Laws are drafted to fulfil the nation's needs of a specific period and therefore we cannot expect a law to remain relevant forever. Laws have to be amended according to the times. The same applies with the ISA.

I would support if the role of the ISA is to be reviewed by the government. However, I am still not to keen on that idea. I would rather see the ISA be abolished and a new set of law be tabled to address the issues of national security. Why allow a law like the ISA which has all the room for abuse by corrupt leaders to continue to prevail?

Thus, the reviewed ISA or whatever name the new law is to be called, should be more specific in its definition of 'national threats' and the criteria which define them in order to prevent future abuses.


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Monday, July 27, 2009

Minister: M'sian football on the rise (because we managed 2 goals against Man Utd)


O
n July 23, Youth and Sports Minister Datuk Ahmad Shabery Cheek (image) said that Malaysian football is on the brink of renaissance after an impressive performance against English Premier League champions Manchester United on July 18 [source]. I'm saying that is a very shallow basis of evaluation, Mr. Minister.

Shabery was also glad that the match between the Malaysian XI and Manchester United was given extensive coverage by the foreign media and as well as, YouTube. The Malaysian XI eventually went on to lose 3-2. Despite the loss, the Youth and Sports Minister believes Malaysian football is on the road to recovery.

I watched the game. And to be honest, I truly felt Malaysia's first goal was rather exquisite (because it was intentional and not a fluke) while the second goal was equally good albeit a mistake by the Man Utd goalkeeper. I do not want to take that away from the national squad - it was a good game. But to say that Malaysian football is on the rise after just ONE game against ONE club in pre-season is a short-sighted conclusion.

It doesn't help to also know that Man Utd were not playing on high gear given that the match on July 18 was their first club friendly after a month-long summer break. With all due respect to the national team, that match was nothing short of a pre-season warm up.

That being said, kudos to the Malaysian national team for giving Man Utd a run for their money - even though the Red Devils weren't exactly on high tempo. Nonetheless, I am deeply disappointed and dumbstruck each time Malaysian leaders fail to move beyond the 'jaguh kampung (village champion)' mentality by over-comparing Malaysia's achievements.

Lest we forget the time when a certain parliamentarian boldly argued that Malaysia should be proud for being 'ahead' of Ghana who also gained independence in 1957 while forgetting the fact that our closest neighbour whom we kicked out of the federation, Singapore is already in an economic and social league of its own.

If losing 3-2 to an English Premier League team is worth a cheer then what about the Thai national team drawing 1-1 with League runner ups Liverpool. Or the 3-2 defeat of FC Seoul at the hands of Man Utd. Surely, there isn't really something to rave about when a domestic club like FC Seoul (not necessary South Korea's Best 11) is more than capable of getting a similar score.

The fact is that Malaysian football is still eons away from returning to its former glory of the 1970's. The FAM (Football Association of Malaysia) seems clueless to what should be done to improve a sport plagued with corruption, shortage of talents and lack of public interest. If Malaysia qualifies for the World Cup or say, the Asian Cup, that would definitely be something to celebrate about - not losing 3-2 to a domestic English club.

And now there is even a movement to bestow Amri Yahya (the scorer of both goals against Man Utd on July 18) the Datukship for his brilliant performance [source]. That is just silly.

The question is this: When will our leaders stop making derisory conclusions over minor achievements, get beyond the 'jaguh kampung' mentality and really swallow reality for what it's worth?

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Saturday, July 18, 2009

When will narrow-minded Malaysians wake up?

It is disappointing to see and hear narrow-minded things some Malaysians had to say, despite belonging to a nation of more than half a century old; let alone a multi-racial one. When will some of us learn to understand the concepts of a matured, open-minded society to move beyond such insularity?

A couple of incidents that took place in the course of the week were really self-explanatory (of the point I am trying to make here). There are still narrow-minded citizens and MPs alike out there who continue to put the rest of our society to shame with their remarks and statements.

One that really left me annoyed and disgusted was the argument Kulim Bandar Baharu MP Zulkifli Noordin put forth in his support for the abolishment of the PPSMI (the teaching of Science and Mathematics in English) initiative. In his blog post, Zulkifli reasoned that there was no real urgency for Malaysians to be proficient in English and the government had done the right thing to honour the Malay language. Taking Japan as an example, he said that the Japanese have gone on to accomplish great technological triumphs without being proficient in English.

To further support his premise, he also argued that the Filipinos was only capable of producing household maids despite being highly proficient in the English language.

Firstly, Zulkifli (image) is naive enough to compare Malaysia with Japan. Japan can afford NOT to learn English because they are in a position to offer much to the world. They are not the 4th largest world economy for nothing. Malaysia, on the other hand, imports the majority of technologies and knowledge from abroad. Thus, who are we to decide that the world should learn our language and we can all together forget about the learning the most important language of all - English? Unlike Japan, Malaysia has relatively little to offer the world for us to demand such privilege Japan is currently enjoying.

Secondly, Zulkifli's statement about Filipinos is utterly disrespectful. There's even a sprinkle of racism in that, I reckon. Being a lawyer himself, he should know that his remarks may have had an impact on the Malaysian Filipino community. But above all, it is also disrespectful towards the good and honest people who have no choice but to work as household maids in this country due to poverty and the lack of job opportunities back home.

In fact, has Zulkifli ever thought that it is us who should be ashamed that even household maids speak and write better English than most of our government officials, corporate figures and elected representatives?

There are also the inconsiderate racists among us that still believe in the superiority of a race over others. The last time I checked, this was Nazi/Apartheid-like mainstream mentality that no longer exists today. Recently, a Kajang municipal councillor who was interrogated by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) alleged commission investigators hurled racist remarks at him during questioning [source].

MACC officers had apparently called him a stupid Chinese and even asked if he (the municipal councillor) was from China.

Perhaps the municipal councillor could not converse in Malay as good as the MACC officers. But that does not mean he is stupid nor is he from China. Well, I have seen my fair share of Malaysian Malays who cannot even converse or write in proper Malay.

So what gives?



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Saturday, July 11, 2009

Taking one step forward & three steps back, the M'sian way

On July 9, the government decided to end the teaching of science and mathematics in English (PPSMI) in national schools, beginning 2012 onwards. Again, the Malaysian people is divided with this latest regression of an initiative set up in 2003 to ensure Malaysia remains competitive in the globalised world of information and technology. But in my opinion, the government has shamefully taken a step forward but three steps back.

1 step forward:
  1. Deputy Education Minister Dr Puad Zarkashi says that by ditching the PPSMI, the government saves RM40 million annually.
3 steps back:
  1. Students who are caught in between the transition between English and Malay will suffer the most.
  2. The government will allocate almost RM5 billion to strengthen the teaching and learning of English in schools.
  3. Malaysia's ability to compete globally in the future is being jeopardized.
If there is one thing that really caught my attention, it is the amount of money the government is willing to pump in to "strengthen the teaching of English" in schools; after deciding to scrap the PPSMI. If the government has RM5 billion in the first place, why isn't that sum of money been put to help improve the PPSMI?

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak argues that only 8% of science and mathematics teachers are proficient in the English language. But the depressing statistic could also improve if half of that RM5 billion of funding is to put better use to bolster the proficiency among the remaining 92%.

It will not be a surprise to see the 8% (those who are proficient) to continue to shrink when students of today end up as teachers in a decade's time. Students now have no reason to improve their standard of English - given that the language itself is still not a 'must pass' subject in the SPM examination and also important subjects are no longer taught in English beyond 2012.

The government is not taking a gamble but a miscalculated dive into the dark waters of arrested development. Various cultural/language groups and politicians have come to support the scrapping the PPSMI, saying the initiative to teach science and mathematics in English is unconstitutional to begin with. They say it is an act of defence for the dignity and position of the Malay language as the national tongue. And by reverting back to the old ways, they are also strengthening the status of Mandarin and Tamil in society.

I'd say their argument is flawed. "Strengthening" one's language does not come by teaching science and mathematics in that language. It is through quality teaching materials and literature that improvements are made to one's proficiency. Therefore, to say that by scrapping the PPSMI could memartabatkan or strengthen the Malay language (Mandarin and Tamil included) is highly unfounded.

But the argument of the PPSMI is not to champion the English language whilst disregarding the other languages. Neither it is made to only improve the proficiency of English among students. The PPSMI serves a higher purpose which is to ensure young Malaysians are well equipped to compete globally.

I urge the proponents of the PPSMI-ditching campaign to be realistic. Sure, patriotism is good but blind patriotism can kill. English, whether we like it or not, is the language of science, information and knowledge.

The effort to improve the standards of English as a subject and learning science and mathematics in English are two different matters. One cannot learn the sciences simply by being proficient in English. On the contrary, one has to be familiar with scientific and academic terminologies in order the master a field.

As former Prime Minister Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad has pointed out in his blog, just how many local academicians in this country do not take English textbooks for references? And if I may add on, just how many non-English speaking local academicians have gone to published world class writings or even being revered by the scientific community?

It is understood that rural schools children face difficulties in science and mathematics due to their poor command of English. But by scrapping the PPSMI in order is to simply run away from reality and is definitely not the solution. Therefore, the government should give more attention in developing and improving the proficiency of English among rural children and not taking their poor command of the language that as an excuse to scrap the PPSMI.

Malaysia was successful in the 1990's because the majority of our workforce and intellectuals were educated in the English medium. We have an edge over neighbouring countries like Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand when it came to attracting Western investors simply because we have better command of the English language.

So this is my plea to the government: Do not burn the whole forest over a sick tree. If the PPSMI has not achieved its intention, it does not mean that the whole idea is rubbish. The problem lies with its implementation and the lack of thorough study and evaluation. The English language subject in schools should be improved but at the same time, the government should also maintain and further develop the PPSMI initiative. School children are not guinea pigs for our experiments. Neither is the future of our nation a gamble.



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Saturday, July 4, 2009

KTM Komuter- A decade and half not enough to be world class?

The KTM Komuter which runs through the heart of the nation's capital has been awful in both quality and punctuality. Since 1995, the KTM Komuter remains the sole railway network which connects large suburban neighbourhoods and satellite towns surrounding Kuala Lumpur to the heart of the city. Many depend heavily on its service daily despite having to face frustration and annoyance ever day for substandard service. Something just has to be done!

The KTM Komuter is notorious for cancellations, delays, breakdowns and overcrowded cars which occur on a daily basis. First introduced in 1995 to help ease traffic congestion in Kuala Lumpur and reducing travel time, it is depressing to know that it takes less time to drive to the city centre today than taking the KTM Komuter.

It is KTM Komuter's unwritten rule to have 20 minute intervals between trains but we all know it would take a fool or a tourist from Singapore or Hong Kong (where they enjoy efficient and punctual railway services) to at least believe half of that bullocks. The fact is that on many occasions, KTM Komuter trains arrive at stations once every 30 minutes and sometimes even to an hour at peak hours or heavy rain.

The KTM Komuter trains also suffer frequent breakdowns with many excuses ranging from power failure to mechanical problems. Thus, it is high time the government intervene to address this appalling state of affairs. KTM Komuter has enjoyed a relative period of monopoly in the railway business. However, that does not mean they are given the ticket to be complacent and incompetent in their service to the public.

One of the major reason why the KTM Komuter is so inept is their inability to cope with high ridership levels which have risen since 1995 and will continue to do so long into the future. However, the indecisiveness by both the KTM Bhd and the Ministry of Transport is to blame for the current state of the KTM Komuter service.

The KTM Komuter rail network spans 173km but has only 53 units (out of its original 63) to cover that kind of distance. With daily ridership of about 101,000, KTM's newest unit of the fleet was commissioned in 1997. That was more than 12 years ago. In other words, no serious steps were actually taken to cope with rising passenger traffic for more than a decade!

KTM announced on February 7 2008 that they will purchase 8 new commuter train sets (with four cars each) that will guarantee increased passenger capacity. Currently three car train sets are serving the route. And on May 2009, KTM said they will introduce eight EMU (Electric Multiple Unit) Hybrid trains by June to use as a temporary solution should any problem arise with existing trains or for peak hours.

The EMU Hybrid train is a set of existing KTM Komuter train which uses diesel locomotive power with the help of a Power Generating Car that provides electricity for the air-conditioning, audio/ visual system and train doors. Kind of defeating the purpose of having a electrified commuter service, ain't it?

Speaking from my personal experience as a commuter, I still have not seen any improvements to the daily cancellations, delays and overcrowded cars the service is notorious for. I believe many fellow communters share the same view.

Also, I find it very puzzling to see newer stations being added to the already inefficient line in the past 5 years when KTM itself do not even have enough trains to properly function for the existing number of stations. Having newer stations mean higher passenger loads and ultimately, longer delays as the trains need to stop longer and at more places in a day. With new trains not expected to arrive by 2010, how would KTM expect its current fleet to cope with the increased passenger traffic when these stations open?

Perhaps KTM should consider standardizing the amount of time a train takes to travel from one station to the next one. The distances may vary between two stations along the line but that can be compensated by either increasing or decreasing the speed of which the train travels between such two stations.

Also, the KTM could try setting a maximum amount of passengers per car for a train to avoid long boarding times. Since trains have to be at a certain time and distance apart from each other, longer boarding times at Station A could delay the entire line! Current KTM policy (from personal experience) suggests that the driver should attempt to sardine-pack as many passengers as possible before embarking. This, I believe, has a multiplying effect on train delays.

Of course, to ensure all of the above could be carried out effectively, KTM must ensure its trains are all rail-worthy and well maintained to avoid unnecessary mechanical or electrical failures. But above all, having additional trains to ease the pressure should be the priority if the KTM wants to be able to handle the ever increasing passenger volume in years to come. KTM cannot expect its decade-old and limited number of trains to continue ferrying the masses to the city centre for the long haul.

Former Prime Minister Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi famously took a one-hour journey on the KTM Komuter and the LRT. He said he was not satisfied with the rail services and wanted immediate improvements to be made after listening to complaints from fellow commuters and experiencing the horrendous service first hand. He told reporters the following:

“I just saw the plight of people using the trains to get to work every morning. They were jostling to get on board every time a train arrived. There appeared to be no system."
“There were many more suggestions given me by the passengers for my attention. I (Badawi)will strive for improvements, I will propose changes.” [The Star, 21/8/08]
Proposing is one thing. Actually getting it to happen is another.



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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

What do politicians mean by Malay/Chinese/Indian unity?

JITRA, June 21 - Deputy International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Mukhriz Mahathir said today it would be difficult to realise the "1Malaysia" concept if the Malays are not united. [The Malaysian Insider]

It has become a rhetorical statement when politicians like to say Malay unity has been split since the emergence of the Pakatan Rakyat. It annoys me every time these elected representatives fail to clearly define the vague and ambiguous claim that unity of a certain ethnic community in this country has been divided.

It is not uncommon for politicians these days to occasionally rant to the mass media of how unity of the Malay Malaysians have been divided. Deputy International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Mukhriz Mahathir recently commented that unless the Malays are united, the 1Malaysia plan will never take off. But just what does Mukhriz mean by the word 'united'? In what or by what should the Malays be united?

I believe the only thing that stands in the way of that 'unity' is the political beliefs that not only splits the Malays but also the Chinese, Indians, Kadazans, etc. communities in this country. Are the Malays suppose to support only ONE political party in order to be united? Does that consider Malay unity?

Clearly, the subject in question here now is not my fellow Malay Malaysians but the politicians that make such statements. The Chinese and Indians have long been in split, if political singularity is what these politicians mean. So what has that (political beliefs) got to do with their loyalty towards their nation and their support for 1Malaysia. Is anyone less Malaysian for not supporting a particular political party?

The 1Malaysia concept will surely fail when the Malays (and if I may add the Chinese and Indians as well) are not united; that is if 1Malaysia is politically motivated in the first place. But if it's not, then I believe there is no worry about whether who's who is not united because every Malaysians would support the 1Malaysia concept for the greater good - unless of course, if you are one of those who believe one race should remain and the rest kicked out.

In fact, all these talk of Malay/Chinese/Indian unity is well against the spirit of 1Malaysia. What does the country gain when the very lot that proposes the 1Malaysia concept are the ones that consistently clamour about race, race and race. Besides, when politicians mention about the unity of the Malays or the Chinese, I can only wonder: What about the unity of the Sikhs, Orang Asli, Kadazans, Ibans and the other minorities that make up this nation of ours?



You see, the problem with politicians harping on the unity of a particular ethnic group tends to lead the other minorities being undermentioned. It is about time, all Malaysians are considered seriously - not just the major racial groups. The solution is to stop the race bickering and address every Malaysian by his or her nationality first. We are a multicultural country not a multinational country - something most politicians tend to forget.

It is true that every community in this country require different levels of attention and assistance by the government due the stark income and social gaps. These politicians can still address the needs of these communities racially but they should spare the race talk in public. That would be a good start towards nation building. But by doing that, it is also important that we ensure no community is marginalised or sidelined.



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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

About time making English a "must pass" subject

KUALA LUMPUR: Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin is surprised to learn that English is not a “must pass” subject for SPM and wants public feedback on the matter. [The Star, 9/6/09]

The importance of the English language as the lingua franca of knowledge and technology cannot be overstressed. The mastery of the language among Malaysians have spiralled downwards since Independence and unless we make things right in the near future, we may just kiss our hopes of becoming a developed nation goodbye.

But before I start, I must say I am a little baffled over Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin's (image) reaction when he discovered English is not a "must pass" subject for the SPM examinations. I'd like to say: "About time, Mister DPM." God knows how long one has to be a minister to actually recognise such an obvious shortcoming in the system.

I belong to the school of thought that fully supports the government's decision to teach science and mathematics in English in schools and making the language a "must pass" subject in SPM. And I am also aware that there are certain quarters of our society oppose this move as they argue that by doing so ,we would put the rural folks at a loss and even compromise the position of the national language. But I must explain that by supporting the teaching of science and mathematics in English does not mean I am less of a citizen. I just feel all of this is essential for the nation to progress.

In my dictionary, forsaking the nation's future is the bigger crime and in this case, the mastery of the English language by Malaysians is of the greatest importance if we ever want this country of ours to succeed.

The issue of the the English subject is a perpetual problem - a vicious cycle where the end has as much influence on the beginning of the problem - and vice versa.

The people who oppose the teaching of science and mathematics in English argue that since Japan, China and Korea can maintain their teaching and learning in their native languages, why can't we do the same? But I would like to simply say that they are Japan, China and Korea...not Malaysia. These countries are major exporters of technology let alone economic powerhouses and therefore have the privilege to not have English being shoved down the throats of their younglings. Malaysia, on the other hand, do not have that kind of choice and privilege.

If I'd be cynical, what difference would teaching science subjects in English make? After all, most of the technical terms and jargon in the national language are direct phonetic translations of their English equivalents anyway.

Those people are right to argue that the rural students who have less access to quality materials would be at a loss if English is made a "must pass" subject. They also believe that the government should first ensure teachers are capable of teaching English. But just how do they expect young teachers to master the English language if they do not have a strong foundation in the language in school in the first place. See why this is a perpetual problem?

But I still believe we should start somewhere. I mean, at least there is a start to a solution to the never-ending cycle and is definitely better than folding our arms and expect English-fluent teachers to grow on trees. Making the English subject a "must pass" would encourage students who are poor in the language to work harder. A standard is set for people to follow, not to set it lower for it to follow people.

At the same time, the government should ensure language teachers are equipped with the necessary skills and materials to teach English effectively and properly. The DPM has recently contemplated to revisit the Kirby College concept first developed in the 1950s where Malaysian teachers are sent abroad to learn English in an English-speaking environment. It is a good idea and must I say the rural schools be given more attention on this compared to urban schools if the concept ever takes off.

Perhaps the government should also consider gradually increasing the passing mark of the English language subject, instead of making the subject a "must pass" over the next few years. That would certainly ease the pressure on the rural students while giving them and the teachers enough time to improve their language skills. But no matter what, it should eventually come a time that the English language subject be made a "must pass" subject in schools.


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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Limit on SPM subjects to 10 not a good idea

NILAI: The days of students taking up to 20 subjects in the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) examination are over. Next year they will be allowed a maximum of only 10 subjects.[NST, 4/6/2009]

The government's decision to cap the number of subjects taken in the SPM examinations to 10 has received a myriad of reactions from the public. In the wake of mounting public dissatisfaction over how public scholarships are offered, the government has attempted to restore some 'quality' to our education system rather than allowing the 'quantity' of A's to continue to dictate one's level of success. But is limiting the number of examination subjects the best solution to the problem?

In Malaysia, students who have completed their fifth form education are required to take the SPM or the Malaysian Certificate of Education examination. It is equivalent to the British O-Levels.

The current rule of thumb among students is that the more A's you get, the higher your chances of getting a scholarship. Here, the 'quantity (of A's)' is of higher importance when really, the 'quality' of one's overall achievement is what merits a coveted scholarship.

Limiting the number of SPM subjects may seem as a plausible remedy to the problem but I feel it is a short-sighted solution which may not bring the intended results in the long run. The government's decision is a good one but certainly not the best in my books.

Firstly, I do not see why it would be a wise move to stop students from learning more. Learning should be an expandable act where every student should have the freedom and liberty to learn as much as they want and can. It is nothing wrong for a student to take 'extra' subjects in school and with that, I would also like to say that I do not believe that students who have gotten 17 or 21 A's (a ridiculous amount I'd say) have committed a crime. Thus, I feel the government should not punish them of their own success. This is very important if we believe in a progressive society.

In my opinion, the real solution lies not in the students but the system itself. Why treat the leaves when the root has the problem? If this whole conundrum is caused by the criteria being used by the Public Service Department when granting scholarships, then it is only logical to fix that - not the students. Instead of capping the number of SPM subjects, I would suggest a standardized evaluation of a student's work. A Grade Point Average(GPA) system would serve both the students and government's best interest.

A GPA system allows students to take as many subjects as humanly possible but his or her overall scores are standardised to an average value - thus providing an even playing field to students who do not have the privilege of taking as many subjects in the examination. When such a system is in place a student who has scored, say 10 A's out of 10 subjects would have equal chances with one who has 17 straight A's when they both apply for scholarships.

That being said, I feel we should not discourage students from outdoing themselves by capping the number of examination subjects. Instead, the government should strive to improve the quality of our education system and review redundant subjects that serve no purpose but to produce 'parrots' and 'tape recorders'. I would not say the Malaysian education system is abysmal but neither would I boast to the world it is world-class. But what the government can do is to inspire students to push their intellectual limits and at the same time, lobby to better our books, teachers and schools.

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Wednesday, June 3, 2009

What Malaysia can learn from Britain

We can all learn a thing or two from the recent British Parliamentary allowance scandal that has made public confidence in the House of Commons hit rock bottom. For those who may not know what it is all about, the British parliament is in dire straits over allegations of public funds abuse by several MPs - including Prime Minister Gordon Brown himself.

In Britain, elected representatives in the House of Commons receive a monthly salary of £4,000 (after tax). On top of that, MPs are also eligible to make several claims over miscellaneous expenses and enjoy various allowances.

One of the earliest revelations exposed in the media was that of Prime Minister Gordon Brown. He claimed £650 for food, £83 for telephone bills, £1,403 for cleaning, £90 for home repairs, and £108 for his satellite TV.

Another senior minister, the Chancellor Alistair Darling, was reported to have claimed £2,000 for furniture, another £2,000 for new carpets, and £300 per month for food. He also claimed £1,200 to pay for his council tax and mortgages.

David Miliband, the foreign secretary, claimed for a £412 hand-crafted chair, a goose-down duvet and chenille throw from Marks & Spencer. He also bought a £450 John Lewis sofa, and claimed £9,000 to do his kitchen, plus £89 for other “household items”.

And the list goes on with the names of more than 200 MPs already exposed.

So what can we all learn from the shortcomings of our former colonial masters? Britain and Malaysia share a similar system of governance. Perhaps, the biggest moral-of-the-story we can all take, dissect and apply to our own backyard at the end of the day is the reaction of the British people and the Parliament to the crisis.

Looking at what the lack of public accountability has done to Britain, the Malaysian government should encourage transparency in every level - from ministries to local municipal councils. And if a government has second thoughts in enforcing public accountability among its staff, then the people should seriously consider who are they voting into office in the first place. Being transparent is not a choice, it is a must.

Therefore, making information such as personal allowances and other claims on expenses by ministers and MPs should be made available to the public. And any Abu, Ah Meng and Muthu should be able to have access to such information with ease. It is our right as taxpayers to know where all our money is going or has gone to.

The fact that British newspapers are responsible for exposing the dirty linen of MPs show that the mass media in Britain have no fear in reporting the truth. It is common knowledge that the local media in Malaysia have their news and articles filtered to avoid being too critical or cynical about the government or risk having their printing permits revoked. It is no wonder why so many people these days have turned to the so-called alternative media i.e. the Internet in search of news and independent opinions. Taking the crisis in Britain as an example, a free press could do the country a world of good by helping to promote public accountability. Press freedom is one of the prerequisites of a progressive nation and there is no debate about that.

The scandal has also forced British Parliament Speaker Michael Martin to step down for his 'failure to maintain public confidence in the Parliament'. It is the first time in 300 years that a Speaker in the Westminster parliament was forced to resign. Nonetheless, the response of British MPs to this was exemplary.

Despite growing dissatisfaction towards the Speaker, British MPs still behaved appropriately - there were no shouting, shoving or a contest of who has the richest vocabulary of insults in the Parliament. Government and Opposition MPs all followed procedures and protocols, obeyed every order of the Speaker and yes, there was no motion to remove the Speaker from his post - much of which is a testament to the maturity of the British Parliament. British MPs knew that as long as Martin is in the House, he has the authority.

This is indeed a far cry from what happened in Perak recently where the State Assembly Speaker V. Sivakumar was forcibly removed from his seat during an Assembly (images below).

The criterion of having elections every five years alone is not enough to fully describe what a democratic society should be. Public accountability, a mature Parliament and press freedom are the aspects of which Malaysians and their government should learn to give enough attention. Taking how their British counterparts handled themselves in the wake of embarrassing scandals, Malaysian politicians have a lot to learn and do.
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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Where is the sense of conscience and responsibility?

IPOH: Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Dr Zambry Abdul Kadir said today he was not "the menteri besar of the court" who did not have the support of the Perak people as claimed by Kelantan Menteri Besar Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat. [ 25/5/09, Bernama]

May 22 is the darkest day for democracy in Malaysia - albeit having many 'darkest days' of late following the coup d'etat in Perak. The Court of Appeal declares Datuk Seri Dr Zambry Abdul Kadir as the rightful Chief Minister of Perak despite the Federal High Court ruling in favour of Datuk Seri Nizar Jamaluddin just 11 days earlier. The Barisan Nasional (BN) may have had the last laugh in this political scuffle but their despicable deeds will forever be etched in the minds and hearts of the Perak people who have been robbed of their state and democratic rights.

In the midst of the unrest, one can only ask: Where is the sense of conscience and responsibility?

Zambry has even the guts to say he is not the Chief Minister of the Courts [source]. His apparent ignorance of the truth is nauseating . If not of the courts then of who? The people?

The only way to prove how far his statement is true is to have a state-wide election again and let the people of Perak decide who they want to be their Chief Minister - Zambry or Nizar? Unless Zambry and his band of state representatives return the power to the people, he will always be a Chief Minister of the court - not of the people.

Thus, Zambry has no right (other than his right to freedom of speech) to claim he is NOT the Chief Minister of the courts. Has he forgotten that his status as Chief Minister was restored or rather, 'given' to him by the Court of Appeal and not through the votes of citizens?

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak and his much-marketed philosophy of 1Malaysia appear evermore hypocritical now when '1Perak' itself is unachievable. If the Barisan Nasional is truly about serving the people then Najib -as Perak UMNO Chief- should not have allowed the power-grabbing that had placed the state into political turmoil to take place.

Zambry states that the Barisan Nasional 'had tried its best to ensure stability and harmony in the state' during the crisis - which begs the question: Would Perak be tosed into such disarray if and only if Barisan Nasional had not attempted a power-grab?

It is easy to ask the Pakatan Rakyat to 'respect the rule of law' or to 'place the peace and stability above all else' but did it occur to Zambry and Najib that the Perak crisis is borne of Barisan Nasional's actions? The people of Perak are not to be taken for a ride!

In the UK, the recent parliamentary expenses scandal has left the Speaker of the House of Commons, Michael Martin no choice but to resign. The Speaker is to quit in June following his role in diminishing public confidence in the Parliament and accusations of bias in in the handling of the scandal. Would Malaysians see the same pattern in our own backyard, following the Perak crisis? Like many Malaysians, I long to see the restoration of God-given conscience and sense of responsibility among politicians and leaders.

So, this is my take on the Perak issue: Political appointments and the formation of state governments should never be placed in the hands of the Courts for it defeats the purpose of Malaysia being a democratic nation. Whether it is the Pakatan Rakyat or Barisan Nasional at the helm, the only way to settle a dispute such as this is through elections. I'd call for the return of democracy to the hands of the Perak people and let them decide which party would best represent them. Period.


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